By Jolene Hawkins
Looking back to the year 1853, in East Concord, the Free Baptist church had the gift of land from Jared Davis to build a church on. Before that, for 30 years, they had met in various school houses that were in the area.
The new church rose, beam by beam, graced with eight stained glass windows and a high New England spire that could be seen for miles! It was a 25-foot steeple donned with a golden dome topped by a brass ball. In the louvered tower stood a small bell, whose clapper occasionally disengaged, but by and large, this church was the finest thing around.
As the years went by, the Church grew and prospered. A organ was added, new members were joining (although they dispensed with total immersion in the colder months due to the weather) and buggies and surreys could be seen lining the long horse shed, where inside, the horses stomped and whinnied waiting out the sermon.
By the 1900s, the treasury balance was zero, and they owed money. The preacher had not been paid, there was a bill for the church steps, which was overdue, so what to do? The Ladies Aid president, Mrs. Ward Morse, started a venture for the group. They would serve a dinner at noon every Wednesday in different houses, and charge 15 cents to any who cared to come. This bi-monthly scheme was a howling success— oysters or venison in the winter months, chicken in the summer. Soon they were selling aprons and quilting became an occupation. And then on Aug. 5, 1910 they started the Ice Cream Social and cleared $15!
In 1910, Silas Smith, who lived nearby, loved viewing the splendid steeple and thought to get a bell casted, and did so. It weighed 400 pounds, was four feet across the lip and required the energies of the whole community just to get it up the hill when it arrived by the train! How it got hoisted into the belfry is a mystery. It was inscribed: “Presented to the Freewill Baptist Church, East Concord NY by Silas Smith, 1910.” Silas waited impatiently for the Sunday when the bell would ring.
The Ladies Aid Society invented a Bell Social and took in $19.25. Why was it needed, you ask? Well, they had to strengthen the steeple for the large bell. The big bell indeed did ring… sadly for the 6 or 7 deaths that happened that year, as well as for the services.
World War I came and the Ladies Aids society went to work rolling bandages, knitting socks, saving peach stones (for the gas mask, a great story I will tell one day) and canvassing for the Red Cross. Then came the day, when the bell rang for over an hour,,, ringing the news of the Armistice!
The preacher was paid $5 a sermon, the chimney needed fixing, there were the Baptist mission, song books, seems like there was always something that there was a need to raise money for, and the Ladies Aid would hop in and do something to raise the money.
By 1935, the old bell began to sag, and Milt Miller, with block and tackle, lowered it to the ground. Over the next two years, the steeple was lowered to ground as well, but the church stood strong. The old horse sheds were torn down, and the bell laid behind the church. When the war came once again, the Civil Defense dug out the old church and stood it up at the County Plant and there it remained on guard until the end of the war.
In 1956, Harold Edington saw the old bell, where it was to be sold for scrap; he bought it for $5, and stored it in his barn.
By the 1970s, the hamlet slept, the trustees sold some of the frontage of the church so the road could be widened to handle the traffic that was now coming through. The train no longer stopped.
The Harvesters leased the old church, drilled a well, installed plumbing, covered the walls, carpeted the floors and painted the pews. Rev. Andrew O’Conner conducts bi-monthly services during the summer months, ice cream socials become an annual event, weddings are happening again and the church is alive once more. It still stands today… and if it could talk, what tales it would tell us, of families and friends, laughter and tears, over the 165 years it has stood there.
Want to learn more about the town, come down and see us at the Lucy Bensley Center, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Come hear some good ‘ole music on Tuesday and Thursday evening 7 to 9 p.m. at the Mercantile. Contact us at (716) 592-0094, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.